Writing for a publication with a name as well known as ours is can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, many of you visit us and ask for our advice about the weather, gardening, household tasks and more because the Farmers’ Almanac is a trusted institution with a nearly 200-year history. On the other hand, our society has, over the centuries, moved away from one centered around the farm, the cycles of the season, and the greater community, and toward cities, suburbs, and the nuclear family.
When David Young, Philom., founded the Farmers’ Almanac, back in 1818, many Americans were still farmers, and those who weren’t knew how much they relied on farmers for the basic necessities of life. Today, when farmers are a smaller portion of our population than at any time in history, we find ourselves having to remind potential readers that our Almanac is “not just for farmers.” The information found in each edition of the Farmers’ Almanac, and week after week on our website, can be valuable to people from all walks of life.
In a country that increasingly gets its food from massive agro-businesses that look nothing like the family farms of yesteryear, what value could there possibly be in a keeping a product name with the word with “farmers’” in it? Why not cut our losses and change it to something like The Almanac for All People? Given the changing face of American culture, is it just name recognition that keeps us rooted to this historical name? I don’t think so.
The fact is, after years of change and decline, farming is making a comeback. It’s a slow comeback, no question about it, but one thing is certain; Americans have lost their way when it comes to food, and we’re trying to find our way back. You can see it in the increasing number of food cooperatives and natural food stores, local farmers’ markets, community supported farms, and backyard gardens. New farms — small, sustainable, family-owned farms — are cropping up left and right, from Maine to Minnesota to Mississippi.
Americans are becoming increasingly fascinated with knowing where our food comes from. You can even see it on the bookstore and library shelves, as books by big name writers like Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, and Wendell Berry break open America’s food culture, or lack thereof, and show the ugly underside of allowing food production to become a business, rather than a labor of love. There has even been a whole new crop of farming memoirs in recent years that follow the exploits of intrepid urbanites as they say “keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.”
Granted, not everyone has the means, or the freedom, to say “goodbye, city life,” which is probably why the latest statistics show that more or you are gardening than ever before. Whether in a large backyard vegetable patch, a few simple window boxes, or a washtub on the fire escape, it’s clear that growing food is no longer something we’re willing to leave to the “experts.”
From all appearances, it seems as though a new era of farming — one that is about feeding our community and learning to have a healthy respect for the things we put into our mouths, both before and after they reach our plates — is being born. It all comes down to the very values that the Farmers’ Almanac has championed for so long: frugality, simplicity, self-sufficiency, and a connection with the Earth. Whether this new way of looking at farming and food grows and becomes more widespread, or stays at the level it’s at today, I’m proud that the Farmers’ Almanac is still around to be a part of it.
The Farmers’ Almanac may not be “just for farmers,” but I hope that it provides just as much invaluable information to today’s fledgling growers as it did for their ancestors 194 years ago.